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Dozens Displaced After High Winds Spread Fire In Paterson

PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — More than 20 families have been displaced following a fire that tore through several buildings in Paterson on Wednesday evening.

Cellphone video obtained by CBS 2 shows smoke and panic filling River Street moments after the fire broke out just before 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The fire appears to have started on the ground level of an apartment building.

It quickly spread to apartments above. Wind gusts of up to 40 mph then spread the flames to four nearby buildings. Two others were also damaged.

Several businesses including a restaurant, dry cleaners, a market and deli were destroyed.

Crews from Garfield and Little Falls came in to help, but the wind wouldn’t let up.

It took firefighters more than 15 hours to bring the stubborn flames under control. When they did, the damage was obvious and devastating, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.

“We did have the roofs totally collapse,” Paterson Fire Chief Michael Postorino said.

Families left their burning apartments with what they could carry, one even moving a litter of puppies to safety.

“Everything’s gone,” said victim Tearaney Benjamin.

“I ran to the back to see if it was a minor fire, and it was huge like the whole thing was already on fire,” said evacuee Raul Mio. “The wind was pushing it basically.”

“The whole house filled up with smoke so I grabbed the babies, no shoes, I grabbed their coat and shoes and I ran out of the house,” said victim Christina Donoi.

No word yet on what sparked the fire. Arson teams will be looking into whether it was suspicious.

“It’s really hard to tell because there’s so much fire it’s gonna be hard to make that determination,” Postorino said.

Four firefighters suffered minor injuries from slipping on ice while fighting the fire.

This is the second time in six weeks Paterson residents had to watch their neighborhood burn. Just last month, a building at the end of the block went up in flames.

“It’s like a recurring nightmare out here this year,” said witness Jason Berrios.

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